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Farm Bill 101: Introduction to FSA Loans

The Farm Bill is the most important piece of legislation for farmers, but it can also be a headache to unravel exactly what the bill means—and does—for you. This is the first in a series of posts that take a closer look at Farm Bill programs that benefit young and beginning farmers. The 2014 Farm Bill updated farm loans offered through the Farm Service Agency (FSA), with the goal of providing farmers an easier path to securing a loan. If you’re a beginning farmer who can’t secure a loan from a commercial lender, federal farm loans are a great resource.

Farm Ownership and Operating Loans

All eligible farmers can secure direct and guaranteed farm ownership (FO) and operating loans (OL), but FSA streamlines a portion of its budget for these loans directly to beginning and socially disadvantaged (SDA) farmers. See FSA Loans for Beginning Farmers and Ranchers and Loans for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers factsheets to see if you fall into one of these groups. For guaranteed FO and OL loans, FSA guarantees a loan made by a lending institution at up to 90 percent of the lender’s loss should the loan fail. Guaranteed FO loans can be used to purchase or improve property, purchase easements and rights-of-way, pay closing costs, refinance debt, and apply soil and water conservation techniques. OL loans can be used to purchase livestock and poultry, feed/seed, equipment, fertilizer and chemicals, insurance, and cover training expenses, among other uses. For more information on loan terms, including microloans, see the FSA Farm Loan Information Chart and contact your local FSA officer.

Beginning and SDA Farmer Programs

The Down Payment Program is intended to help beginning and SDA farmers purchase property and provide retiring farmers with a way to transfer land to the next generation. The program requires five percent of the purchase price in a cash down payment, has a 20 year term, and an interest rate four percent lower than a direct FO rate but not lower than 1.5 percent. Loan amounts do not exceed 45 percent the least of the purchase price of the farm, the appraised price, or $667,000. If the loan is provided through a commercial lender, the FSA provides up to a 95 percent guarantee, with no fee to the lender. Lenders must have repayment period of no less than 30 years and must not impose a balloon payment (or oversized payment) within the first 20 years. To see how the Down Payment Program has helped farmers like you, check out the Schieffer’s story on NSAC’s blog.

Joint Financing Arrangements allow the FSA to split loan financing with a commercial lender 50/50. Farmers can use the resulting funds for any purposes already approved under FO loans. Interest rates are two percent lower than a direct FO loan, but no lower than 2.5 percent, with a term of no more than 40 years.

Land Contract Guarantees are designed to provide security to anyone selling land to a beginning or SDA farmer. There are two types of Land Contract Guarantees. A Prompt Payment Guarantee covers no more than the amount of three annual installments, plus real estate taxes and insurance. A Standard Guarantee covers 90 percent of outstanding principal balance of the contract. For both, a down payment of five percent of the property’s purchase price is required, and the purchase cannot exceed the lesser of $500,000 or the property’s market value. Interest rates for Land Contract Guarantees are dependent on the direct FO interest rate at the time the Land Contract Guarantee is issued. These guarantees extend for only 10 years, no matter how long the contract term. Payments must be made for a minimum of 20 years, with no balloon payments during the 10 year guarantee.

Sale of Inventory Farmland: After acquiring land, FSA has to advertise it within 15 days. Beginning and SDA farmers are given priority to purchase these properties, which are sold at the appraised value. If multiple offers are made on the same property within the first 135 days after listing, FSA randomly selects a buyer. For more information on how to find and purchase FSA properties, visit the USDA-Rural Development/FSA properties page.

Applying for FSA loans can be a daunting task, but it’s worthwhile to know that there are programs whose specific intention is helping new farmers get on their feet. Ready to take the next step? Check out NYFC’s Credit and Capital page for more information on federal loans, lenders, investors, and other resources. Contact your local FSA officer to discuss which FSA loan would be most beneficial for your operation.

All information was sourced from the FSA Programs Factsheet page.
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